2014 Chevrolet Impala First Drive: Introduction
When Baby Boomers fondly recall the Chevy Impala, they remember the cars from the 1950s and 1960s, ones wearing SS badges equipped with big engines and convertible tops. When Gen-Yers fondly recall the Chevy Impala, it is the 1994-1996 Impala SS they remember, a big car with cool wheels and Corvette power. I’m a Gen –Xer. There were no cool Impalas when I was an impressionable youngster, and while my father briefly owned a black ’96 SS, the Impala I best recall was a maroon 2006 LS model with 6-passenger seating that I rented during a weeklong vacation with in-laws in Hawaii.
Having spent some quality time with the redesigned 2014 Chevy Impala, I’ll say this much: it’s a far better car than that skanky rental, and I even like it more than Dad’s instant-classic ’96 SS. But can it compete with other modern flagship sedans from mainstream brands, like the Chrysler 300, Dodge Charger, Ford Taurus, Hyundai Azera, Kia Cadenza, Nissan Maxima, Toyota Avalon, and Volkswagen Passat? That’s what I went to San Diego to find out.
2014 Chevrolet Impala First Drive: Models and Prices
The 2014 Chevy Impala is based on the same platform as the Buick LaCrosse and Cadillac XTS, a sound, if aging, foundation. It is a 4-door, 5-passenger, full-size sedan offered in base LS, mainstream LT, and luxury LTZ trim levels. When it goes on sale in mid-April, the 2014 Impala will be equipped with a V-6 engine. Over the summer, a 4-cylinder engine will become the standard offering. Then in the fall, Chevrolet will offer an Impala Eco with an eAssist mild-hybrid powertrain. Also, Chevy says it will continue to build the old Impala for a while, solely for sale to fleet and business buyers. It will be called the Impala Limited.
Getting back to the new 2014 Impala, the LS ($27,535) is equipped with 18-inch steel wheels with plastic wheel covers, power mirrors, power windows, power door locks with remote keyless entry, air conditioning, an 8-way power driver’s seat, and cloth upholstery. Color driver information and infotainment display screens are standard, as well as a stereo with a CD player and satellite radio. The only option is a Convenience Package adding rear park assist sensors, folding rear head restraints, and a trunk cargo net. If you happen to find a new Impala in a rental car parking lot, it’s likely to be the LS.
Chevrolet expects most people to choose the Impala LT, which is offered in 1LT ($29,785) and 2LT ($30,760) sub-trim levels. The 1LT model adds aluminum wheels, ground illumination embedded in the exterior mirrors, additional enclosed storage spaces, vinyl seat bolsters with premium cloth inserts, dual-zone automatic climate control, and an 8-inch color touchscreen radio display with MyLink smartphone connectivity. The Impala 2LT is equipped the same way, but includes a V-6 engine.
The Impala LT models are offered with a long list of optional upgrades. Extra-cost packages include a Convenience Package with rear parking assist sensors, a reversing camera, remote engine starting, a universal garage door opener, and premium floor mats. The Premium Seating Package adds microfiber suede seat inserts, heated front seats, an 8-way power front passenger’s seat, and a cargo net. A Navigation Package adds a navigation system, passive keyless entry with push-button starting, and ambient cabin lighting. A Bose premium surround sound system, unique interior lighting, a 120-volt power outlet, a rear spoiler, and 19-inch wheels are included in the Premium Audio and Sport Wheels Package. There’s also an Advanced Safety Package that equips the Impala LT with Side Blind Zone Alert, Lane Departure Warning, Forward Collision Warning, and Rear Cross Traffic Alert systems. Finally, the Impala LT is offered with a power sunroof.
Next up is the Impala LTZ. The LZ1 ($34,555) sub-trim has the 4-cylinder engine, while the LZ2 ($36,580) trim has the V-6 engine. Both versions add 19-inch wheels, HID headlights with LED running lights, exposed dual exhaust outlets, leather seats, an 8-way power passenger’s seat, ambient cabin lighting, rear park assist sensors, a reversing camera, passive keyless entry with push-button starting, and the contents of the Advanced Safety Package. Additionally, the LZ2 is equipped with a standard power sunroof.
The Impala LTZ can be optioned with a Bose premium surround sound system, a MyLink navigation radio, and a Comfort and Convenience Package that adds ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel, a power tilt/telescopic steering column, memory for the driver’s preferred settings, auto-dimming side and rearview mirrors, and for the 1LZ model, a power sunroof. Upgrades offered exclusively for the Impala LTZ with the V-6 engine (the 2LZ trim) include 20-inch aluminum wheels and a full-range adaptive cruise control system with Collision Mitigation Braking.
2014 Chevrolet Impala First Drive: Styling and Design
Though the 2014 Impala shares its underlying platform with the Buick LaCrosse and Cadillac XTS, it is better looking than either of its corporate siblings, exhibiting proper proportions, tasteful detailing, and the appealing new “Chevy face.” This is an attractive car from every angle, and the LTZ models are equipped with exposed, polished dual exhaust outlets that aren’t found on the LS or LT. The photos depict the Impala LTZ with every option added, painted Crystal Red Tintcoat and equipped with a unique grille specific to models equipped with the optional full-speed-range adaptive radar cruise control system. This car’s 20-inch wheels and tires are offered only for the Impala LTZ.
The Impala’s interior is not as tastefully executed, in my opinion, displaying plenty of visual clutter. The dashboard vent surrounds break continuity in design and materials, the gauge cluster “cap” and terraced dashboard design add unnecessary complexity, and the cabin’s numerous tones, textures, glosses, and exposed stitches are somewhat overwhelming. Fabric-wrapped windshield pillars that match the headliner are a nice touch, but the B-pillar and C-/D-pillar covers are wrapped in a non-matching plastic. Impala buyers will be able to choose between Jet Black, Dark Titanium, Brownstone, and Mojave cabin treatments, all but the first rendered in an upscale 2-tone color scheme.
2014 Chevrolet Impala First Drive: Comfort and Controls
On a more positive note, the 2014 Impala’s interior is roomy and spacious, and equipped with comfortable front seats that offer good long-distance comfort and support. Aiding the seats in this effort are soft-touch upper door panel surfaces and a steering wheel that’s good to grip. The center console armrest, however, is mounted a little bit too high, even for someone like me, who likes to sit really tall in the saddle. People preferring a lower seating position might find it to be uncomfortable.
I spent more than an hour riding in the Impala’s back seat, sitting behind a driver who was 6’6” tall, a true test of rear comfort if one ever existed. Though I’m an even six-footer, I had enough legroom with my knees barely brushing the soft front seatbacks. Not only is the Impala’s rear seat roomy, it is also comfortable, supportive, and offers a good view out. My size 12 feet, however, wrapped in bulky boots, found under-seat foot space to be tight.
The new Impala’s switchgear is sourced from the GM parts bin, is fairly easy to use, and exhibits quality and refinement. Some markings are vague, but with practice and experience, should pose no problems for Impala owners. Models equipped with Chevrolet MyLink offer a secure storage bin behind the screen, one that can be locked with a programmable code to deter theft and to prevent other people with access to the car, such as a valet, from using information stored in MyLink for nefarious purposes. Owners who forget the code can ask their dealer to unlock the screen.
Trunk space is not a problem for the 2014 Impala, which can swallow 18.8 cu.-ft. of cargo and offers a 60/40-split folding rear seat to further expand capacity.
2014 Chevrolet Impala First Drive: Safety and Technology
The 2014 Impala is the first Chevy equipped with next-generation Chevrolet MyLink technology, which shares plenty of its back-end programming with the Cadillac User Experience (CUE) system. That means the touchscreen allows the driver to swipe, flick, click, and drag, and Impala owners can customize the screen’s theme, similar to a tablet computer such as an iPad. The difference here is that the Impala does not include a proximity-sensing screen or haptic feedback hard keys like CUE does, instead offering redundant controls in the form of buttons, knobs, and touchpads.
Having driven three different Cadillacs equipped with CUE, I will tell you that Chevy’s approach is more satisfying and less frustrating.
The new Chevrolet MyLink system is equipped with natural voice recognition technology. It doesn’t appear to work very well. Neither my co-pilot nor the General Motors employee riding along had very much success in using it, and from my location in the back seat, I heard MyLink ask “Is this correct?” many times over, with my fellow test-drive compatriots telling the pleasant female voice “No!” more often than not.
And my wife wonders why I don’t instantly adopt new technologies like she does.
Something else that didn’t appear to be working as intended on the pre-production Impala LTZ I drove was the camera-powered Lane Departure Warning system, which inconsistently sounded warnings when I crossed the yellow center stripes on the two-lane mountain roads east of San Diego. To its credit, the system never missed the white stripe on the right shoulder.
I’m also of the opinion that, for some drivers, the Forward Collision Warning system might prove a little overeager to sound the alarm. Twice during my time behind the Impala’s wheel, it produced an alert. The first time, in traffic, there was no impending danger, but that’s because I was paying attention to the road ahead. Had my nose been buried in my smartphone, the system would have saved a low-speed bump. The second time, I rounded a curve in a country road, and the system detected a mail truck on the shoulder of the highway. Since I wasn’t driving on the shoulder, there wasn’t any danger.
The 2014 Chevy Impala is equipped with 10 standard airbags, traction and stability control systems, 4-wheel-disc anti-lock brakes, and a hill-hold and start-assist system. OnStar telematics is also standard, equipped with Automatic Crash Response, Emergency Services, and Crisis Assist. The first six months of service is included; thereafter, owners must pay a monthly subscription.
Additional safety features for the new 2014 Impala include a Collision Mitigation Braking system that will automatically apply the brakes to help avoid a low-speed collision, a Side Blind Zone Alert system that monitors the Impala’s blind spots, a Rear Cross Traffic Alert system that identifies when traffic is approaching from the side while the car is reversing, and both a reversing camera and rear parking assist sensors. These items are options, and Chevrolet points out that they’re not exclusive to the most expensive versions of the Impala.
2014 Chevrolet Impala First Drive: Engines and Fuel Economy
When the 2014 Impala goes on sale, the initial powertrain offering will be a direct-injected 3.6-liter V-6 engine and a 6-speed automatic transmission. The V-6 is estimated to make 305 horsepower at 6,800 rpm and 264 lb.-ft. of torque at 5,300 rpm. That’s not nearly as much torque as the last Impala SS V-8 model Chevy offered, but the V-6 does make more horsepower. Chevrolet estimates that the V-6 will return 19 mpg in the city and 29 mpg on the highway. I averaged 21.7 mpg on a mix of city, highway, and mountainous two-lane roads with two additional passengers aboard.
A few months after the car launches, a direct-injected 2.5-liter 4-cylinder becomes the standard engine, generating 196 horsepower at 6,300 rpm and 184 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,400 rpm. A 6-speed automatic transmission is standard with this engine, too. Fuel economy estimates, according to Chevrolet, are 21-city/31-highway.
Then, at the end of summer, a new Impala Eco model arrives with GM’s eAssist hybrid powertrain. Comprised of a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder gasoline engine, a small electric assist motor, and a Lithium-ion battery that is recharged through regenerative braking, the eAssist system delivers a combined 182 horsepower and 172 lb.-ft. of torque. Like other Impala models, this gas-electric hybrid employs a 6-speed automatic transmission. The eAssist system cannot power the Impala on electricity alone, even at low speeds, making it a mild hybrid rather than a full hybrid system. Chevrolet expects the Impala Eco to return 25 mpg in the city and 35 mpg on the highway.
2014 Chevrolet Impala First Drive: Driving Impressions
The 2014 Chevy Impala is quick, but not fast, its satisfying 305-horsepower, 3.6-liter V-6 engine delivering enough oomph to squirt through city traffic and accelerate onto freeways without drama. Chevrolet says the Impala will accelerate to 60 mph in 6.8 seconds.
In the hills east of San Diego, I found the 6-speed transmission to hunt on occasion, delivering an unbecoming drivetrain shudder to the cabin. A toggle button on the top of the shifter allows for manual shifting, helping to eliminate the transmission’s stumbling, but this design is really awkward to use. I also found the gear selector itself hard to use, my hand regularly shifting into Neutral instead of Drive. Why? I don’t know, but it might be that selector position doesn’t line up with the gear markings on the console.
Impala buyers seeking a quiet ride and composed handling will want to get the 19-inch wheel-and-tire combination. So equipped, and when driven with moderate gusto, the Impala is a competent handler. The electric steering feels good, the big car turning into a curve with accuracy and the suspension controlling body roll and communicating the right information about the road surface while filtering out the worst of the pavement scars.
Add the 20-inch wheels and tires to the Impala LTZ, and the car is louder inside, it communicates more road texture than might be preferable, and it doesn’t absorb pavement anomalies to the same degree. Over one really big San Diego pothole (yes, they exist), the MacPherson strut front suspension was unable to manage the impact, and the shockwave transferred directly into the cabin with a big “Boom!”
All 2014 Impalas are equipped with new Duralife brake rotors, a GM-patented technology designed to double rotor life expectancy to 80,000 miles while eliminating rotor rust and brake shudder. The good news is that the design doesn’t detract from brake pedal feel, the Impala’s stoppers proving sensitive to input and easy to modulate.
If there’s any genuine driveability concern with the new Impala, it pertains to rear visibility. The car’s steeply sloping backlight and tall rear deck make it very hard to see, which is why I think rear parking assist sensors and a reversing camera ought to be standard equipment for this model.
2014 Chevrolet Impala First Drive: Final Thoughts
The debut of the 2014 Chevrolet Impala accomplishes several things. First, it gives Chevy a credible full-size car, one that needs no apologies. Second, it eliminates perceived overlap between the Malibu and the Impala. There is a clear size difference, as well as a sophistication difference. Third, it charts a new course for Chevrolet design, and if the Impala’s sleek good looks transfer to the rest of the lineup, it might be difficult for car buyers to resist a visit to a Chevy dealer.
Chevrolet invited Autobytel to participate in a media ride-and-drive event to facilitate this first drive article
2014 Chevrolet Impala LTZ Photos by Christian Wardlaw